Divine MachinesLeibniz and the Sciences of Life

Divine MachinesLeibniz and the Sciences of Life

Justin E. H. Smith

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780691141787

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Abstract

Though it did not yet exist as a discrete field of scientific inquiry, biology was at the heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of G. W. Leibniz. This book offers the first in-depth examination of Leibniz's deep and complex engagement with the empirical life sciences of his day, in areas as diverse as medicine, physiology, taxonomy, generation theory, and paleontology. The book shows how these wide-ranging pursuits were not only central to Leibniz's philosophical interests, but often provided the insights that led to some of his best-known philosophical doctrines. Presenting the clearest picture yet of the scope of Leibniz's theoretical interest in the life sciences, the book takes seriously the philosopher's own repeated claims that the world must be understood in fundamentally biological terms. Here it reveals a thinker who was immersed in the sciences of life, and looked to the living world for answers to vexing metaphysical problems. The book casts Leibniz's philosophy in an entirely new light, demonstrating how it radically departed from the prevailing models of mechanical philosophy and had an enduring influence on the history and development of the life sciences. Along the way, the book provides a fascinating glimpse into early modern debates about the nature and origins of organic life, and into how philosophers such as Leibniz engaged with the scientific dilemmas of their era.